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A Hard Road


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised     Bill Oursler at 5 & 11


  The focus of attention as of late has been on NASCAR. In fact, it seems that
NASCAR and Formula One have sucked every available inch of space from the
motorsport universe. To paraphrase a popular song of the 1960's, "Where has the
rest of racing gone?" Some will say that is a silly question, noting there is a great
variety motorsport on television for the watching, and an even larger amount in
print and on the internet - as is witnessed by this website.

And they are right.

First we take ManhattanÖ
  Yet somehow, in the broad brush of life if you live in the United States you are
bombarded by the world of NASCAR. If you live in Europe and elsewhere itís F-1.
To put it another way, the rest of racing seems to have been subordinated to
these two very different venues. Indeed, the stature of the NASCAR and the Grand
Prix scenes is such that many might say they are the twin foundations of the
industry. Again, supporters of other forms of the sport like drag and motorcycle
racing may disagree. However, the fact is that the media expends far more time
and energy on the giants that are NASCAR and Formula One than anything else.

  The question is how did we arrive at this point. In truth, it is because of a
confluence of circumstances, the most important of which is the brilliance of
Bernie Ecclestone and the France family, each of whom have molded their
respective plantations into all conquering empires. The shrewd minds of
Ecclestone and the Frances accomplished this through focus and control,
creating a game plan that could work, and then making sure it did. Unfortunately,
foundations can fracture and crumble, and in Formula One at least there are
some cracks.

A fire in the skyÖ.
  Some of these come from the legal front where Ecclestone may find himself out
of, or at least forced to share power in the entity that is SLEC. They have the world
wide television rights to F-1 along with the banks who own the majority of its
stock. The roots of the others are to be found in the unhappiness of the
manufacturers, whose support of the Grand Prix sandbox is crucial to its well
being, and in the European Unionís determination to rid all forms of sport
including F-1 of tobacco advertising.

  In comparison, NASCAR is basking under sunny skies. Still, there is an ever
increasing number of empty seats to be seen in its world, while many of the
smaller teams are counting their pennies more closely as they struggle to find the
sponsorship to keep going. In addition,  NASCARís more than two billion dollar
television contract is coming up for renewal. There are questions as to whether or
not the networks will re-sign at the same level, much less accept an increase in
light of the difficulty they have had in attracting enough advertising revenue to
provide them the kind of profits they feel they so richly deserve.

  Of course, like the rest of us, it is hard to admit there is anything wrong, at least
in public. To listen to Ecclestone, one would think that the issues confronting him
are mere irritants to be brushed aside and ignored. Unhappily though, they arenít
going to evaporate and simply disappear. As Formula One is moved ever further
away from its European roots, it increasingly faces the prospect of losing its
legitimacy. If that happens what will replace it? Likewise, even though one
suspects that the Frances will keep things straight and level, what happens if
those small surface cracks turn into more serious fissures that canít be readily
fixed?

Charter an accountantÖ
  Lest one think this is "doom and gloom," it isnít. Rather it is a wake up call; a
summons to consider the "what ifís" of the future. In a way we have fallen into the
trap of "Let George do it." Politics and agendas have taken their toll on the
fortunes of other areas of the industry; ill advised dalliances from which those,
more focused and determined, such as Ecclestone and the Frances, have
profited. Nothing is permanent in this world, this forcing us to be prepared for the
inevitable change to come. Right now motorsport is, like those on the Titanic, not
prepared.

  Take for example open wheel racing here in the United States. Interest in recent
years has declined, and continues to do so. Ratings for the Indianapolis 500 are
now below those for NASCARís Brickyard 400. Yet, despite the obvious need for
the IRL and Champ Car to work together, if not merge into a single unified body,
the reality is that each persists in going their own way at the expense of the sport.
It reminds one of the First World War where both sides scarified nearly a
generation of their youth in a struggle over a few miles of disputed, stalemated
territory in the fields of Flanders.

Can Alfieri come out and play ?
  Equally unfathomable is the argument raging between Le Mans, the FIA and the
ALMS over the Maserati MC12, a dispute a seemingly rooted more in issues of
control then the welfare of sports car racing. All too often those in charge donít just
lose sight of the their ultimate goal; they close their eyes tightly so they donít have
to see it. Ecclestone and the Frances can never be accused of that. Instead they
have profited from the immaturity of others. Now it is time for the rest to grow up.


                                                                             Bill Oursler
                                                              March 2005




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